Its hard to believe that I made my first basket 22 years ago. It was a very small simple round one with a handle, but it was enough to have me completely hooked. Those early years found basketry competing with the rest of my house and its occupants. There was willow constantly in the bathtub and always a semi-completed basket could be found on the kitchen table. My children weren’t impressed with having to wait until my willow had soaked before they could have a bath!
Eventually, I moved into a workroom… or at least, I made my bedroom into a workroom and I began to sleep in the lounge. Having a dedicated space meant I could work much more easily and the baskets were made and sold from my front verandah. A lifelong passion had begun…
My skills had slowly developed through long hours of practice and experimenting. I was selling most of my work and was happily weaving, yet I felt I had reached an impasse; I definitely needed to develop my abilities further.
At this point in time I realised the importance of using traditional willow weaving techniques and it was literally a matter of beginning again. There was a craft to making baskets. I went back to my original sources, my small library of basketry books.
And so I started again, but with hugely different circumstances: with years of experience behind me I was now learning to combine raw skill with refined technique. My baskets improved tremendously.
It had long been a dream of mine to travel to the U.K. for tuition in french fitched baskets. In 1997 I had that dream come true and spent a wonderful 8 weeks in and around London and Cheltenham, England. I spent my time looking at baskets of all kinds, all the while picking up new techniques and designs, in particular the discipline of french fitching’. I arrived back in New Zealand with a headful of baskets and new perspectives.
I import a considerable amount of willow materials from Europe. Shifting willow from one side of the world to the other is not without its problems and this seems to be one of my main concerns in life.
A few years ago I leased land and planted a crop of willows which I am now using in my work. Although the same varieties of willow I prefer can be grown in New Zealand, it tends to grow thicker here and is unsuitable for some of the finer work I produce.
I have worked from my home for the last 22 years and I have had many people pass through my doors. Often people will spend an hour or so in my workroom while I work. I enjoy the interaction with my customers and they often unknowingly give me new ideas.
Whereas baskets were once valued solely for their practical function, modern baskets are also cherished for their design. The contemporary basketmaker is privileged in that a basket is no longer required simply as a container.
The aim in every basket I craft is for the ‘look’ and the ‘feel’ to compliment each other.